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An endangered species in the U.S. has been cloned for the first time (fox5ny.com)
97 points by jacquesm 14 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 41 comments



My first thought (from the title) was that cloning won't save you from having too small of a population because below a certain threshold there's not enough genetic diversity (if you have 20 living specimens and you clone them to get 40, you still only have 20 individuals worth of DNA). But (on reading the article) it turns out that the big deal is that they cloned it from a (long) dead animal, which means that they've actually increased available genetic diversity in the living gene pool. So that's cool:)


Not only that, but from a biologist's perspective: where are you going to put it? The main reason animals become endangered is habitat destruction. There's no place now to put a viable population of the species. You can't introduce them to a new environment easier, as Australians will be happy to tell you if you ask them about rabbits.


I mean. If your goal is to make the species a going concern, the Australian problem is a win. It's a little... paperclip maximizer feeling, but going from "nearly extinct" to "invasive species overrunning a continent" does solve the original stated problem.


Assuming they were live animals:

Couldn’t you keep reintroducing the cloned individuals into a gene pool to increase diversity? Yes, you’re stuck with (say) 30 individuals, but cloning would help you get more combinations out of the DNA than just breeding the 30 animals, right?


No, cloning creates identical copies. If you clone a niece and nephew 1000 times the resulting population will still be very inbred.


That’s not quite what I’m saying. With say, 15 males and 15 females, you can create 15 pairings. If you can clone them, you can make 225 pairings. You still have to worry about inbreeding but you can make many more different combinations of the genes you do have and ensure none of the individual genes are lost by not being passed on.

In addition to your point, inbreeding isn't necessarily a problem if you engage in selective breeding. (Sterilizing and euthanizing animals with fatal recessives or health problems) Genetic testing has made this a much more effective solution. With in-vitro testing and implantation you can clear these problems before the animal is even born or implanted.

The problem is that a lack of diversity can lead to issues with adaptation to new environments and pressures. This is what has made a lot of these species endangered in the first place. They are adapted for very specific conditions which are suddenly changing due to habitat destruction. (Deforestation, urbanization, water works, farming)

A typical population has a lot of mutant lines that do okay in the current environment but may be more adapted to different environments. A population of clones will take time to develop these and may not survive long enough to adapt. Also if there is a problem with the current line and you don't catch it fast enough you are hosed.


Wouldn't genetic diversity eventually occur naturally? Especially if you can source the clone dna from > 1 source.

I personally don't know fwiw.


It does increase naturally. The catch is: If the overall gene pool is too small, the viability of successive generations will decrease faster than the rate at which the gene pool can expand.


Great news. I wonder is the new ferret fertile? I know that can be an issue with manipulated species.


I'm sure the intent is that it be fertile (so they've chosen their methods and so on with that in mind), but it's still to young to know.


This article does not cover it but Elisabeth Ann is not 100% black-footed ferret as the mitochondrial DNA comes from a domestic ferret (via the egg cell the black-footed ferret cell nucleus was cloned into). This means that this individual will breed with a normal black-footed ferret male and only the male progeny of those (that still has those normal ferret mitochondria) will be crossed back into the real black-footed ferret population.


It's important to clone cute animals. That's how you do a social media campaign. No one wants to see endangered ugly bats (although they're probably important for some purpose).


Developing this technology on "cute" species will make it cheaper and easier (both technically and politically) to perform on ugly or ignored species. Gotta start somewhere.


Bats are actually pretty cute.


Old World bats: basically puppies with wings.

New World bats: nightmare fuel.


They are adorable. My girlfriend used to volunteer at a bat rescue. Did you know bats purr? They freaking purr! Sure they have weird noses but they are strange and beautiful animals. You should learn to love them like your life depended on it, as likely it may be that dire.


Bats can also carry rabies and as someone who personally knew a 21 year old picture of perfect health male Taekwondo instructor that my kids learned under, he one day stopped side of highway to pee. A bat brushed against him. 6 months later dead. I am all for bat rescue but caution anyone touching a bat to use extreme caution when doing so. Here is a link to the article on his incident it is something that broke my families heart as this guy was a true gem to the community. https://www.timescolonist.com/news/local/parksville-man-dies...


Exact, baticare should be left to professionals.

Interesting, I know other animal that purrs while planning your assassination in slow-mo.

After seeing hedgehogs whistling like a blackbird I expect anything.


I’m surprised that the article doesn’t mention that today is the same day, 24 years ago, that the existence of Dolly the sheep was revealed, the first adult mammal clone.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dolly_(sheep)


In case anyone else is wondering who the surrogate mother was, it was a domestic ferret:

> This work builds upon recent advancements in cloning processes developed by ViaGen Pets & Equine, which successfully created embryos from the frozen cell line and implanted them into a domestic ferret surrogate.

More informative article: https://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/pressrel/2021/02182021-...


Can we please get a mammoth already?


Let me introduce you Astrid Vargas, the Spanish biologist expert in breeding black-footed ferrets (and Iberian lynx):

https://valleyofthepossible.com/people/astrid-vargas

Nobody expected the Spanish inquisitive.


Definitely a cuteness bias here.


Considering the huge and absolutely idiotic tide of resistance to any sort of cloning progress that comes up with every headline like this, the first success of this kind probably should be of a cute ferret that's easy to defend.


As another commenter ("1-6") said, cloning cute animals is how you get the public's support.

The market isn't going to support the costs of developing cloning tech to save endangered species and government grants aren't big enough either. But if you market the tech to rich people who want clones of their pets, you can actually develop it and then, once you have it, modifying it to save endangered species, even ones that aren't cute, gets much easier and cheaper.


Let's face it: we live in a Lookist society. This isn't talked about nearly as much as it should be


Very true


Rare plants are cloned all the time but it’s easy so nobody notices.


Am I the only one thinking about Babylon AD? :-)


One step closer to Jurassic Park!


Jurassic Park is probably ridiculous. Most likely, cloned dinosaurs would not be able to survive in today's atmosphere for the same reasons we still have roaches and dragon flies but they are no longer huge like they once were.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-history-of...

Mammoths only went extinct 10k years ago. They might be viable, though I imagine they wouldn't be happy with what industrialization has done to the air.


Not quite Jurassic Park, but I something I really hope to see in my life time is a Woolly mammoth.


Is this something that is actually thought to be possible in the near future? It sounds like in this case they needed a living female to do the clone. How would that work in the case of a Woolly Mammoth? Are elephants a close enough relative?


Yes! Revive and Restore (mentioned in the article) has also done some preliminary work on reviving mammoths, and the plan is to use Asian elephants as surrogate mothers.

This would be pretty different from the ferret project, as the mammoth DNA available isn't in good shape. It would require genetic engineering as well as cloning, and mostly consist of introducing mammoth DNA into Asian elephants a few genes at a time.


If I were to bet, I'd wager that the Thylacine will be the first large mammal brought back from true extinction. There exist specimens that were preserved in alcohol (which is not as destructive to DNA as formalin is) that are only a century or so old, and there is some political will behind it, too. I personally hope that it does come to pass.


But what would be a possible mother for it? Mammoths may be easier because (based on my very limited knowledge on the topic) elephants are not too distant from them, and with an incremental approach as other’s mentioned, it may be possible in the future.

Thylacine is pretty special as far as I know, with it being marsupial (though perhaps it is easier that way because a significant part of the development is outside the mother?)


Cool story, but we destroyed it's natural environment. So basically it's a nice experiment, but that's mostly it.


This is part of a broader program that involves captive breeding, habitat restoration, and reintroduction into the wild. From being extinct in the wild in the '80s with a captive population of 18, they've been brought back to several thousand individuals.

Increasing the diversity of the gene pool is more than just a "nice experiment", but actively addresses a major challenge in the survival of the species.


You've gotten some downvotes, but you're right. Species are endangered because of habitat destruction. Without restoring habitat, there's no room for a viable population to thrive and grow.




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